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Approved voting rights for white card holders spark fury

Feb 12. 2015
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By Myanmar Eleven

President Thein Sein has approved the parliamentary decision to give holders of temporary identification cards, known as white cards, to vote in the national referendum of constitutional amendment.
According to the state-run Myanma Radio and Television, the president signed his approval on February 10. 
Controversy over people holding limited citizenship rights in Myanmar's complex national identification system spilled onto the streets after a bill granting them the right to vote in referendums was enacted on Tuesday. Myanmar's temporary citizens, including hundreds of thousands of Muslim Rohingya.
During the Union parliament session on February 2, MPs from Rakhine State objected to the decision while military MPs supported the decision. Some politicians and democracy advocates are convinced that the decision was to help the ruling party win the upcoming election.
The joint committee dealing with the bill, which is mostly populated by members of the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), agreed to grant voting rights to white card holders.
The parliament approved the decision with 328 votes out of 426 total attendees in the parliament. 
Originally, the Union parliament sent the bill to the president on November 27, 2014, to seek his comment. The president returned the bill to the parliament on December 15, 2014, with a request to allow white card holders to vote in the referendum. The parliament approved the president’s request on February 2. 
"If those given the right to vote don't pay respect to Myanmar's flag, then we will have a failure of sovereignty," Nyi Nyi Maung, a Rakhine Buddhist who had joined monks and other protesters in Yangon Wednesday, told AFP.
Parliamentary speaker Shwe Mann, who is also the head of the ruling party, said he had asked the constitutional tribunal to look into the matter, adding that the law could still be amended.
"I worry that the heated public debate might disturb the integration of ethnic minorities, national reconciliation and peace," he told reporters in the capital Nay Pyi Taw on Wednesday.
Violence between Buddhists and Muslims tore through Rakhine in 2012, leaving over 200 people dead and sparkling outbreaks of religious violence across the country, overshadowing its democratic transition.
Many of Myanmar's roughly 1.3 million Rohingya are stateless and subject to a tangle of restrictions that affect everything from their ability to travel and work to the permitted size of their families.
Referred to by the government as "Bengali", they are largely seen as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, even if many can trace their ancestry in the country back for generations.
Ko Ni, a member of the central legal support committee for the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD), recently wrote an article, supporting the parliamentary decision. He said the laws relating to the registration of citizens and the definition of white-card holders dated back to independence in 1948. The aim of issuing a certificate was to prove identity as an undocumented person could lose their rights.
Shortly after the article was released, NLD spokesman, Nyan Win, quickly said that the document did not represent the party.
“His article did not represent the NLD. He is a legal expert. His opinions were expressed in his article. He did not represent the legal outlook of the NLD. He responded to the government’s decision to grant voting rights to white-card holders from his legal point of view. It is his own opinion,” Nyan Win said.

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